The All-Star break has come and gone and tonight, the Portland Trail Blazers (36-17) start the home stretch of the season against the San Antonio Spurs (39-15). This will be their third meeting of season with the previous two victories going to Portland. Although the Trail Blazers haven’t played in a week, their two All-Stars put in time in New Orleans this past weekend.
Damian Lillard participated in five events during All-Star weekend. There was a lot of hype and buzz around him and it thrust the Trail Blazers into the spotlight for a good portion of the break. LaMarcus Aldridge was on hand to cheer on Lillard but he also was there to participate in his third All-Star game. As much fun as Lillard and Alridge had during the All-Star festivities, they know it’s time to make a push. That early second half push will have to come without Aldridge.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing through a lingering left groin strain for a couple of weeks. The Trail Blazers have decided to keep Aldridge out for a week then reevaluate his condition. The injury to Aldridge means that the Trail Blazers streak of 53 straight games with the same starting five will end tonight. The organization also noted that Meyers Leonard is out for 2-3 weeks with a left ankle sprain. During this week Aldridge is sidelined, we will see how good the Trail Blazers really are.
One positive note going into tonight’s game is that the Spurs are on the second game of a back-to-back. Last night, the Spurs played the Clippers in Los Angeles. The Spurs were without Tony Parker as he has been sidelined with multiple injuries “for the foreseeable future”, according to Gregg Popovich. The Spurs were able to defeat the Clippers 113-103 behind reserve and ex-Trail Blazers Patrick (Patty) Mills’ 25 points. Mills and three-point contest winner Marco Belinelli will have to pick up a lot of slack without Parker.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- LaMarcus Aldridge is out as he recovers from a groin strain. As noted, Aldridge will be sideline for one week and then reevaluated.
- Meyers Leonard is out 2-3 weeks with a sprained left ankle.
- Joel Freeland is out 4-8 weeks as he recovers from an MCL sprain in his right knee.
San Antonio Spurs:
- Tony Parker is out with general soreness. Parker is suffering from multiple minor injuries to his shin, groin, and back.
- Kawhi Leonard was a game-time decision last night and did not play. My guess would be he will try to go again tonight as he continues to recover from a broken hand.
- Tiago Splitter has been banged up for a while with a calf/shin injury. The injury kept him out of last night’s game but he is listed as day-to-day.
Keys To The Game
Thomas Robinson vs. Tim Duncan. Robinson is about to have the weight of the Trail Blazers on his shoulders. Is he the best available player? No. But with LaMarcus Aldridge out, opponents will shift their focus to Damian Lillard and try to exploit Robinson. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Robin Lopez will continue to provide their usual help. Robinson has played solid minutes off the bench for the Trail Blazers all season. It will be interesting to see how he plays if he’s in a starting role rather than a reserve role. He must have the same energy and hustle if he wants to prove he belongs on the team. Tim Duncan has 29 career double-doubles against the Trail Blazers. Throughout his long, impressive tenure, he has always been a constant in the Spurs game plan. With Parker out, they will look to Duncan to provide offense. Last night, he tallied 19 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists against the Clippers.
Break the Century Mark. The Trail Blazers have the number one offense in the NBA. In their two previous meetings with San Antonio, they have averaged 112 points per game. However, over the last ten games, the Trail Blazers are only averaging 101.6 points. When the Trail Blazers break the century mark in a game they seem to play with more confidence on both ends of the floor. If they can find their offense early, it may be enough to propel them to a third straight win over the Spurs.
Protect Home Court. The Trail Blazers are 19-6 at the Moda Center this season. In their last three home games, they have only been able to win once. The Trail Blazers will play seven of their next eight games at home. They must start on this stretch on a positive note in order to hold their position in the Western Conference. After this generous home stand, the Trail Blazers will play five straight on the road, all of which are against quality opponents.